The Global Ocean Forum and the South African Government Department of Environmental Affairs, along with number of other international and environmental organizations, hosted Oceans Day at Durban on December 3, 2011. The day brought issues of oceans and coasts to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC), highlighting both the critical roles oceans play in regulating earth’s climate as well as the vulnerabilities of ocean and coastal ecosystems and human communities to climate change.
Oceans Day discussions included the need to protect fisheries as climate changes, the dangers to marine life associated with ocean acidification, and the potential importance of restoring coastal ecosystems as carbon sinks.
The current situation for the world’s coasts and oceans looks bleak. Deep ocean waters may be warming by 0.5 C. Globally, fish populations have declined significantly since 1960. In his address on "Climate change impacts on the biophysics and economics of world fisheries," Professor Rashid Sumaila of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, indicated that future pressures on fish are likely to worsen with the combined effects of climate change and increasing world demand for fish protein. Coastal human populations, particularly in small island states, face severe inundation, threatening livelihoods and national survival.
These threats are not news, but underlie the need for solutions. The day offered some potential solutions, calling for a new “blue society,” including the forthcoming release of a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on a green economy in the blue world, as well as a new focus on “blue carbon” that includes restoring mangroves and salt marshes for carbon storage. Although the interest is hopeful, it is not yet clear if this shift in language will be sufficient to restore these globally vital habitats.
Following COP17, the Global Ocean Forum will bring the fruits of the day’s discussions to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) at Rio de Janeiro June 4-6, 2012 in an effort to "mobilize and seize the opportunity to achieve a significant ocean outcome" at the conference. Noting how the situation for the coasts and oceans has worsened over the last ten years, the need for the day’s conversations to lead to such an outcome is clear., particularly for the youth of 'generation earth.'
(Based on reports from Durban from Green Boston Harbor Project (GBH) Director Anamarija Frankić)